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Real Madrid’s trophy machine bids
Saturday’s Champions League final in Kiev promises to be that rare event, a meeting of outstanding teams that lives up to its billing, though the television trailer advertising that the contestants have 17 European Cups between them is being ever so slightly economical with the truth.
The figure is correct; it is just that Liverpool’s proud total of five is dwarfed by the Spanish club’s dozen. Not many teams can make Liverpool feel inferior in Europe but Real Madrid can. The current holders of the trophy have a habit of making everyone feel inferior. No one else is in double figures. No one else has won back-to-back titles in either the original European Cup knockout format or the modern Champions League era.
It is true that Real’s near-impossible numbers are largely thanks to the dream start they had in European competition, when the star-studded side of Alfredo Di Stefano and (later) Ferenc Puskas won the first five editions of the European Cup before the rest of the continent properly got its act together, though the idea that the club’s potency is based on ancient history and legend does not bear the slightest scrutiny.
The cold fact Liverpool supporters must face is that their opponents are preparing for their fourth final in five years. Not only that, the previous three have all been won. Liverpool are fond of the boast that they have won the European title five times, and in terms of English football they have every right to be. Their successes of 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984 and 2005 put them easily at the top of the list of achievers from this country.
Their nearest challengers are Manchester United with three, Nottingham Forest (still) with two and Chelsea finally managed it in 2012. Five is a good number, no doubt about that. Apart from Real Madrid only Milan have won more (seven), and with five wins spread over three decades Liverpool find themselves level with heavyweights such as Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
Yet should Real Madrid win in Kiev it would confirm a dominance once thought unattainable in the modern version of the contest. Four wins in five seasons would be equally attention-grabbing, arguably more so, than their five wins in five years that put the European show on the road.
Until last season no team had been able to win back-to-back
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Champions League titles. In 24 years of intense competition the rejigged format had produced a different winner every time. Not even Barcelona at their most brilliant managed to win the European Cup then go back the following season and do it again.
The old patterns of success, which had
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seen distinct periods of dominance by outstanding sides such as Ajax (three consecutive wins between 1971 and 1973), Bayern Munich (three in a row between 1974 and 1976), or Internazionale, Forest and Milan winning it
back to back in the mid-60s, late 70s and late 80s respectively, were thought to have been consigned to history. Uefa must have been quite pleased with itself for devising a competition so difficult to crack but now the possibility is being contemplated of a team who have already won two in a row making it three.
Should that happen, and even if it does not happen, Real Madrid deserve enormous credit for consistency.
The talk on Merseyside is that this might be Liverpool’s year, with Jürgen Klopp in charge and Mohamed Salah in
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irresistible form, and so it might.
Yet there is a recognition within that expression that under the modern format even a club with a rich European pedigree might manage a tilt at the ultimate title only once in a while – not every year certainly and not for a club like Liverpool or, from the look of things, for a club like Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Barcelona or Bayern Munich either.
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